Pacers in 2020

Photo credit – Pacers twitter

The Indiana Pacers fly under the radar every year. When Paul George was traded in 2017, it seemed like it was time to embrace a full rebuild. They rebuilt on the fly instead, while doing an excellent job of developing young talent. By bringing in value free agents and maximizing their skills, they managed to win 48 games two years in a row. Recruiting well again this off-season, they are set for one of their best season’s in recent memory.

Free Agent signings

Using every dollar wisely, they made a series of excellent moves this summer. Malcolm Brogdon was one of the prized free agents, and is now a centerpiece in Indiana. Signed to a four year $85 million contract, Brogdon is one of the best shooters in the league. Last season he became one of only ten players in NBA history to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from three and 90% from the line.

Not only is Brogdon a great shooter, his size and length make him a great defender also. His 6’10 wingspan means he is an excellent rebounder at his position, while he defends opposing guards well without fouling. Brogdon fits well next to Oladipo with his combination of size and shooting ability. Already possessing the leagues best defense last season, he can help on the perimeter contesting three’s or stop teams in transition.

Wing Signings

TJ Warren was also brought in to bolster the wing stocks. Surprisingly they only had to give up $1 million cash to get him from Phoenix. Averaging 18 and 19 points a game the last two years, Warren showed massive improvement shooting the three. His shot selection should also be noted though. While playing the four last season he took almost a third of his shots from three point land, rather than dining out in the mid range. Still only 25, Warren stands at a stout 6’8 and can defend out to the perimeter. Though not an excellent man defender, he closes out well to shooters and jumps passing lanes for steals and deflections. He is also on a very reasonable contract of around $11 million a year.

After four years in Charlotte, wing Jeremy Lamb was also signed. Lamb was signed to a cheap three year $31 million deal. He has a shifty game, using his length to finish over people with an array of post moves and floaters. An excellent proponent of the mid-range, he has increased his volume from three point land. He is most proficient from the corners, where he shoots 53%. The best defender of the three new signings, Lamb can defend positions one through three. He is a great rebounder and rarely turns the ball over. After a career year in Charlotte, he could be the perfect sixth man in Indiana.

Roster versatility

Defense has been a hallmark of the Pacers roster the last two years. With the two way play of Myles Turner and franchise star Oladipo, they had the league’s best defense last year. By adding three efficient scorers who can also defend, they have raised this rosters ceiling. Forcing turnovers was a key part of their league best defense, by adding switchable defenders like Brogdon and Lamb they can be versatile on both ends of the floor. Getting to the line and shooting the three was a problem for this team last year. Brogdon and Warren should plug this hole while the return of Oladipo will obviously be a big help. Though they will miss Thad Young and Bojan Bogdanovic, they have replaced them with young two way options.

Playoff contention

In an Eastern Conference where the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics lost their best players, the Pacers will bring theirs back into the fold around Christmas. Though the Brooklyn Nets will be strong when Kevin Durant returns, they have a top heavy roster reliant on two stars. Building organically before, Pacers management see this year as the time to strike. Outside of the Philadelphia 76ers, the Pacers are the team to beat in the East. With depth and a young roster this team should be aiming for 50 wins and the conference finals.

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Knicks – the good and the bad

Photo credit – Getty Images, Anthony J Causi

The New York Knicks made some great decisions this off season, while also making some bad ones. After posting a franchise low of 17 wins last season, they ended up with the number three pick. Unfortunately not the number one pick and Zion Williamson. With over 60 million in cap space there were thoughts of Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler. Unfortunately they lucked out when it came to signing stars and filled their roster with second chance guys and veterans. Do they have a strategy moving forward?

Cap management

Knicks management deserve credit for the way they cleared cap space. When Kristaps Porzingis indicated he wouldn’t re-sign, they moved him with some bad contracts and got assets back in return. This years free agent class was elite, but when no big names were signed it should have been time to take stock. Glancing over their depth chart most of the players are on either one or two year deals.

Thanks Basketball Insiders for the info!

Though this means that they have cap flexibility, if they want to bring any of them back they won’t have their bird rights. To have a players bird rights they need to have spent three years on their respective team. In the event of a max free agent wanting to sign with them, having a players bird rights is important. The max contract player fits into the cap room then they go over the cap to sign the players whose bird rights they have. If a team doesn’t have a players bird rights it means they can only offer 120% of the previous years contract.

A clear strategy is needed if they want to return to the playoffs. Bringing in projects on cheap three year deals would be a better way to spend their cap space. Taking the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets as examples of different rebuilds, they have both taken on money to gain assets. Both of these teams have in different ways rebuilt either through the draft or free agency. If the Knicks are going to keep rolling their cap space over then they need to use it more creatively to build long-term.

The Draft

Some credit also needs to be given for the recent draft record. Last season Mitchell Robinson was probably the steal of the draft. Drafted with the 36th pick, Robinson posted the most win shares in his rookie class. Signing the un-drafted Allonzo Trier was also a nice move. Trier averaged 11 points a game on only 22 minutes a night, shooting 39% from three.

This year RJ Barrett was drafted with the number three pick. The jury is out till he plays in the league, but as far as untapped physical potential goes he is one of the best prospects going around. Ignas Brazdeikis was selected 47th. ‘ Iggy ” impressed at summer league with his shooting ability and composure. A 20 year old out of Michigan, he could potentially be a steal in the second round for the Knicks.

Roster fit

The great work in the draft may have been undone with the free agents that were signed though. An example of this is their forward rotation. Kevin Knox was drafted last year in the lottery, although he had a rough first year he still has a lot of upside. By signing Randle, Bobby Portis, and Marcus Morris they are taking away game reps from prospects like Barrett, Knox and Brazdeikis.

The same can be said of the point guard position. After drafting Frank Ntilikina two years ago, they traded for Dennis Smith Jr last year. If that wasn’t strange enough they overpaid Elfrid Payton, then announced a month later they will play RJ Barrett at the point. Developing talent hasn’t been a strength for the Knicks in the past, now they have some actual prospects they need to take care of them. Here’s hoping they play the younger guys significant minutes.

Trade Value

The upside to signing players to one and two year deals is they may have value at the trade deadline. Rebuilding teams might want to get off three or four year deals and take back one or two years salary instead. In the event that the Knicks season goes pear-shaped they should look to get assets back for any players of value. There is no harm in dumping some of these deals rather than losing them for nothing.

This wasn’t a terrible off-season for the Knicks as they preserved their long-term cap space. While some may see their failings to sign a big name free agent as a massive negative, they have kept the powder dry for the next couple of seasons. The fit between the veterans and rookies will also be important, as they can’t forget about the franchises long-term future. If they can develop the younger guys while getting value out of the free agents they signed, that would be a win. Failing that its back to the drawing board!

Sean Marks, timeline of an NBA kingpin

Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks recently completed one of the most improbable rebuilds in NBA history. While cross town rivals the Knicks had to make do with role players, Marks pulled a trump card in signing two All-NBA calibre players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. After the previous Nets regime famously gave away their first round picks in four out of five drafts, Marks completed this rebuild with only one of his own first round picks. The timeline of this rebuild makes for intriguing reading.

February 18 2016

Sean Marks hired as General Manager of the Brooklyn Nets.

When Marks playing career ended in 2011 he embarked on a three year career with the Spurs. This culminated in his promotion to Assistant General Manager. This experience, in arguably the NBA’s best organization placed him in good stead for the Nets job.

At the time of his hiring the Nets were over the cap by ten million. They also had a total of $27 million of dead money on the books after waiving Joe Johnson and waiving and stretching Deron Williams. Williams was stretched over 5 years at the rate of $5 million a year.

April 17 2016

Kenny Atkinson hired as head coach.

It didn’t take long for Marks to start imprinting on the organisation. Atkinson was hired after spending four years as an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks. Not only has he doubled the win total in three years in charge, Atkinson’s play style and adjustments have been praised around the league. Whether it was not playing traditional big’s or playing a zone defense, Atkinson hasn’t been afraid to do things differently.

July 7 2016

Traded Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers for Caris LeVert.

With Brook Lopez and Young the only assets on the roster, Marks made the aggressive move to trade him for rookie small forward and 20th pick Caris LeVet. LeVert has been one of the Nets most consistent players in Marks tenure. He broke out in the playoffs this year against the 76ers, scoring 20 points a game on 49% shooting from the field. Bar a massive overpay from another team, its looking like LeVert will be a long-term piece for the Nets.

July 19 2016

Signed Joe Harris to a multiyear contract.

Harris was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. Injuries and a lack of opportunity had him traded to the Orlando Magic who cut him in 2016. After signing with the Nets he revived his career, and recently led the league in three point percentage. Harris deservedly got a two year $16 million contract last year. This kind of reclamation project has been a hallmark of Marks’ tenure.

December 8 2016

Signed Spencer Dinwiddie to a multiyear contract.

Similar to Harris, Dinwiddie was also on the NBA scrap heap. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons, he played in just fifty games before being traded to the Bulls. They cut him before the 2016 regular season. This left Marks to sign him in December. He impressed straight away with his confident play making and scoring as a combo guard. Last season Dinwiddie averaged a career high 16 points a game off the bench. This play had him rewarded with a three year contract, at around three years and 30 million.

February 22 2017

Traded Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to the Washington Wizards for Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton and a 2017 first round pick.

While Bogdanovic may be the only name people will know in this trade, this move was key to Marks rebuild. He had been improving on the Nets but was likely to get overpaid in free agency. The Washington Wizards gave up a first round pick for him at the deadline.

June 22 2017

Selected Jarrett Allen with the 22nd pick and Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick.

Traded Kyle Kuzma and Brook Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers for Timofey Mozogov and D’Angelo Russell.

Marks came into this draft with two first round picks, numbers 22 and 27. Number 22 was the Wizards pick, while number 27 was the pick swap with the Celtics. On that same night Marks saw the opportunity to get a young point guard in D’Angelo Russell and he swooped in. By keeping their powder dry and preserving cap space Marks was able to absorb the Mozgov salary and take on Russell. Lopez was likely to get a bigger contract in one years time also. D’Angelo Russell took the Nets back to the playoffs last season while averaging 21 points a game. He was also their first all-star in six years. Jarrett Allen was a steal with the 22nd pick, providing the second most win shares in his draft class to date.

July 13 2017

Traded Justin Hamilton to the Toronto Raptors for DeMarre Carroll, a 2018 first round pick and a 2018 second round pick.

Again by retaining cap space, the Nets were able to absorb another salary dump while taking in two extra picks. Though it looked like Carroll’s contract would age poorly, he was able to resurrect his career in Brooklyn. He posted career highs in his first year, while being a big part of the playoff team in his second year.

June 21 2018

Selected Dzanan Musa with the 29th pick and Rodions Kurucs with the 40th pick.

Marks used the picks from the Carroll trade to select these two European wings. Though it is early in both of their careers, it looks they will be good role players.

July 13 2018

Traded Isaiah Whitehead to the Denver Nuggets for Darrell Arthur, Kenneth Faried, a 2019 first round pick and a 2020 second round pick.

Another salary dump, this time absorbing two players into their cap space. Within a week Marks used Arthur in another trade, sending him to the Suns in return for Jared Dudley. Dudley was a difference maker for them in 2019, while they ended up with a first and a second round pick.

April 13 2019

Brooklyn Nets return to the playoffs, win game one against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Less than three years after taking over the GM job, the Nets returned to the playoffs after a 42 – 40 season. Finishing with the sixth seed, they were one of the form teams from December on wards with a 34 – 22 record.

June 6 2019

Brooklyn Nets trade Allen Crabbe, the number 17 pick in the 2019 draft, and a 2020 first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second round pick.

Marks was now cooking with gas. Aware that they were in the running or even in the lead for marquee free agents, he started clearing cap room for July 1st. Crabbe was moved to Atlanta, while Prince was brought back as another project. Knowing they would need maximum flexibility with cost controlled contracts they traded out of the first round this year also.

July 1st 2019

Signed Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan

Though it didn’t become official until later, this was the day Marks trumped the league by signing two of the biggest free agents. To make things work cap wise, Marks used a sign and trade to bring in Durant while moving Russell. They also gained a first round pick in this deal.

Summary

In just over three years Marks rebuilt the Nets. With no cap space in his first season and no draft picks, he fully rebuilt the roster. He handpicked players on the waiver wire and developed them, while also making it back to the playoffs. He cleared cap space to sign two max free agents while not mortgaging their future. While the Clippers and Lakers gave away five first round picks or more to bring in star players the Nets are owed a total of one first rounder and six second rounders in the next two years.

Marks may not be done making moves, with almost 20 million cap space next year and assets to burn this team may not be a finished product. For now though their is a new championship contender in Brooklyn!

76ers – trust the roster

The Process is over. Four sub 30 win seasons have been replaced by consecutive conference semifinal appearances. The Philadelphia 76ers have a different set of problems to worry about now. Minimum contracts and lottery picks have been replaced by max contacts and superstars. After adding Al Horford and subtracting Jimmy Butler, its time for the rubber to hit the road.

The Sixers had one of the more intriguing off-seasons this summer. In a move that no one saw coming, Al Horford signed with them on a four year $109 million deal. Jimmy Butler’s sign and trade to Miami was equally shocking. But in a positive for Philly they returned Josh Richardson in this deal. This means they now have an elite defensive starting five.

Though they lost JJ Redick and Butler’s shot creation, their starting five is better equipped for the playoffs. Josh Richardson is a bulldog on the perimeter, and is a better shooter from three than Butler. Horford is one of the best passing bigs in the league, he also shot 38% from three in Boston. Horford will form an elite defensive frontcourt with Embiid. Bringing back Tobias Harris on a five year $180 million contract was also key for the Sixers. Their only elite shooter on the perimeter, he can have he ball in his hands more with Richardson and Horford comfortable playing off it.

Bench upgrades

The bench upgrades have been encouraging for the 76ers. Fan favorite TJ McConnell has sadly left for Indiana. He was replaced by Raul Neto from the Utah Jazz. Not only is Neto making half what McConnell is this season, he is also a better defender and three point shooter. Jonathan Simmons and Amir Johnson barely played last season, and have been replaced by Matisse Thybulle and Kyle O’Quinn. Thybulle is an exciting rookie out of Washington while O’Quinn is a younger version of Johnson that can still play rotation minutes. Zhaire Smith is returning after a serious injury, and 22 year old shooter Furkan Korkmaz re-signed in July for two years. These young players along with last years second round pick Jonah Bolden will be relied on for bench depth.

Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons is the piece that can take the 76ers over the top. A transcendent talent at 6’10, he can pass, score and defend. Simmons just inked a five year $170 million that will kick in next summer. This is a designated veteran extension, so his contract can increase by making an All-NBA team next season.

The elephant in the room is his jump-shot. Simmons inability to hit any shot away from the rim is a major concern. As he doesn’t have a strong floater game and is only shooting free throws at 60% he limits his teams ceiling in the playoffs. An NBA executive said that Simmons didn’t want to change his hand placement on the ball. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you are in the bottom 5% of free throw shooters at your position then form changes should be made. Simmons may start the season shooting from mid range and taking the odd three with the clock winding down. This would be a massive win in terms of getting game reps in. 76ers management will no doubt be having these conversations in the hope that he can develop a three point shot.

Play Style

Defensively the 76ers will want to jack up the intensity this year. Last year they had plenty of defensive pieces but didn’t play the lock-down defense the group was capable of. With the additions of Horford and Richardson they should be able to improve on last year’s 15th ranked defense. Management have already made it clear they will have one of Embiid or Horford on the court at all times.

Offensively they should run a lot more pick and pop or pick and roll this coming season. In an ideal world they would frequently run both. It could either be Horford popping out for three or looking for Embiid on dives to the rim. Simmons is a great cutter, Horford will find him or shooters Richardson and Harris. Harris is now free to run pick and roll with Embiid, this could produce devastating results.

Which ever way you look at it, the 76ers have more depth and flexibility across the roster. If they are healthy they are a contender in the eastern conference. Going one step further, if any of their starters take a jump this year, they could be championship contenders. Now the process is over, its time to trust the roster and the young pieces it has in it.

Atlanta Hawks rebuild

Curtis Compton – Atlanta journal

The Atlanta Hawks are a must watch on NBA league pass next season. With an intriguing and exciting young core, the Hawks are back on the NBA map. With Trae Young as the franchise cornerstone they could contend in the eastern conference sooner rather than later.

Two seasons ago Hawks management decided it was time to blow it up. All the vets that were part of the previous regime walked or were traded and they started building through the Draft. Ex Golden State Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk was hired to build the team from the ground up.

Building through the draft

John Collins was the first piece in the door, a steal with the 19th pick. Collins, out of Wake Forest, averaged 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds on 56% shooting last year. His combination with Trae Young in the pick and roll will be the Hawks bread and butter for years to come. Not only is Collins a prime lob threat every night, his pick and pop game is also developing. Collins shot a respectable 34.8% from three in the last season.

Come the 2018 draft, Schlenk put his nuts on the line by taking Luka Doncic and then immediately trading him to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and a first round pick. Though this move was criticized at the time, he shouldn’t be judged on it straight away. Young had an exceptional rookie year and after the All-Star break posted some mind boggling numbers.

Young’s passing ability is his real strength, but if his shooting comes on he could be an offensive powerhouse in the league.

For the second year in a row Schlenk got value in the draft. This time the 19th pick netted the Hawks Kevin Huerter. Huerter provided the best on off rating for the team last year at + 6.6 while he showed impressive offensive skills across the board. Huerter showed off a stepback, off the dribble scoring and secondary play making. His three point efficiency was third only to Collin Sexton and Landry Shamet in his rookie class.

2019 draft

Fast forward to this year and Schlenk made serious moves on draft night. Having the 8th and 10th picks coming into draft night, Schlenk made a series of moves that eventually netted them De’Andre Hunter, Bruno Fernando and Cam Reddish. They didn’t give up future assets to move up in the draft. While they used their cap space creatively to take on bad contracts from around the league, and gain extra assets. On top of their own future picks they also own a Brooklyn Nets first in 2020 and an OKC first in 2022.

De’Andre Hunter projects as a multi positional defender in the NBA. If Young is the offensive lynch-pin then Hunter is the leader of the defense. With a massive 7’2 wingspan, quick feet and a stout body that is NBA ready, Hunter could potentially guard four positions in the league. His 42.8% from three point range last year also bodes well for a three and d ceiling.

Style of play

It would be harsh to reflect negatively on the Hawks 29 – 53 record last year. 22 different players donned a uniform in the season, of which only five had more than five years experience in the league. This young crop ended the season with the leagues 12th best offense while also leading the league in pace. Their run and gun style led to being top five in attempts at the rim and from three point land. Coach Lloyd Pierce deserves credit for defining a play style early on. Though the defense needs work, they want to play fast and have the personnel to do it.

Only two years ago the reset button was pushed. In this time the front office have a built of stable of young athletes with other assets to join them. Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter represent the future of this league when it comes to multi dimensional athletes. With a potential 83 million in cap space next year, this team can swing for the fences in free agency or continue to build through the draft. Either way they are setup for the future. Travis Schlenk, take a bow!

New look Pelicans

photo credit – Bleacher Report

The New Orleans Pelicans completed one of the swiftest and more surprising rebuilds in NBA history recently. With the Anthony Davis trade saga hanging over the franchises head, they hired David Griffin in mid April hoping he could right the ship. In the last three months he has turned the Pelicans hopes around with a series of moves that has NOLA faithful pumped for the upcoming season.

David Griffin’s first job was to attend the draft lottery in May. Coming into the lottery the Pelicans had the seventh worst record, but as the ping pong balls started dropping it became clear they were going to move up. Griffin sat by calmly as they moved all the way up to the number one pick. With only a six percent chance of getting this pick, they had some luck on their side. After bad luck with injuries over the years, Pelican fans now had something to be happy about.

Anthony Davis trade

Griffin’s next job was to engage with Anthony Davis around his trade request. Davis made it clear he wanted to be moved, leaving Griffin to work on preferred destinations. After it came down to the Boston Celtics, LA Lakers and the New York Knicks, the Lakers and Pelicans pulled the trigger on a deal. Davis had the Lakers as a preferred destination so they were able to give the best package without fear of Davis leaving after one year.

Griffins negotiating also landed them pick swap rights in 2024. Including the number four pick in 2019, they landed five first round picks. Come draft night they selected consensus number one pick Zion Williamson. They also selected Jordan Bone and Alen Smailagic in the second round. These assets, combined with the Lakers and Cavaliers picks got them Nickeil Alexander Walker, Jaxson Hayes and Marcus Louzada Silva. Though this meant moving the number four pick in De’Andre Hunter, they decided on a shooter in Walker and a bouncy big in Hayes. The second round picks they got for Smailagic were then traded for Derrick Favors.

Roster construct

Within two months Griffin turned a dead end roster into one of the most exciting young teams in the league. When free agency opened they also brought in JJ Redick on a two year $26 million deal. Looking at their depth chart they have star upside at every position, while also having defensive chops and shooting.

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram join the Pelicans with something to prove. Not encumbered with the win now pressures that come playing with Lebron James, they can focus on developing with other similar minded young players. Hayes showed a lot of potential at summer league and could form the NBA’s most athletic front court with Zion.

JJ Redick is one of the leagues most efficient and deadly shooters, and still has plenty left in the tank at age 35. With a healthy Josh Hart, and shooters E’Twuan Moore and Darius Miller, Griffin has surrounded Zion with plenty of spacing to open up his game. Nickeil Alexander-Walker may also have been the steal of this draft class. A two year combo guard out of Virginia Tech, Walker is a great shooter who can create off the bounce. He is an excellent playmaker and can zip passes to the corners from both hands. Jrue Holiday also remains. Possibly the most underrated guard in the league, Holiday has had career years the last two seasons. As evidenced by consecutive All-Defense selections in the ’18 and ’19 seasons, Holiday is firmly in his prime.

The future is bright

The Pelicans future is bright. Though Anthony Davis is gone, Griffin’s haul of assets has set this team up for the future. Not only do they have hyped rookie Zion Williamson but there is a plethora of young talent alongside him. Many casual NBA fans will now have the Pelicans as one of their league pass teams. This excitement for a small market team is great for a city that hasn’t had it easy recently. Bring on the age of Zion!

Do the Kings have their team?

AP – Elisa Amendola

The Sacramento Kings have a young core that can compete for prime playoff positions in the foreseeable future. After flipping DeMarcus Cousins only two and a half years ago, they have fully rebuilt the roster. They now have a core of young pieces that with continued improvement can be one of the best teams in the western conference.

Roster moves

What could hold back the Kings from contending is blowing their cap space on mediocre free agents. Harrison Barnes, DeWayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph are all strong players in their own right. But by overpaying slightly for this crop, Kings management may have limited their future flexibility. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic need to get paid next year, with De’Aaron Fox then Marvin Bagley in the following years. Looking at market rates, Buddy Hield will probably command around 20 million while De’Aaron Fox will be a max player if he improves again this year.

They already have a young core that is cheap. Bagley, Harry Giles, Bogdanovic, Hield and Fox could form a potential starting five that can score while having defensive upside. This five should form the backbone of the team while taking up most of the payroll. Thankfully all the deals signed this summer bar Harrison Barnes were only for two years. Some had third years but these were non-guaranteed. If Barnes is the long term small forward then that could leave Bogdanovic as the glorified sixth man. Bringing him off the bench with Joseph and Giles would form a strong second unit.

Additions

Moving past the payroll they will now look to get maximum value out of their signings. If DeWayne Dedmon can continue to improve his stretch abilities, he is a legitimate two way center for the Kings. Per Cleaning the Glass, Dedmon ranked in the top 20% of centers last year on three point volume and accuracy.

While Cory Joseph had a down year scoring wise in the regular season, he picked his game up in the playoffs against the Boston Celtics. Joseph is an excellent defender who will provide a great foil to Fox either off the bench or playing alongside him for defensive stops. Harrison Barnes is now in his prime, and needs to show he is worth the 20 million a year paid to him. Barnes corner three percentage was an elite 45% for all of last year, while also posting a career high 2.3 makes a game from three point land. If he can get to the rim more, he can be an efficient two-way player.

Young guys

Kings fans should be excited about the growth of De’Aaron Fox. Fox took a massive step forward in year two, showing flashes of All-Star level play. Not only did he shoot 37% from three, he ranked in the top 1% of point guards in getting to the line. His aggressive defense and athletic play bode well for a massive future in the league.

Marvin Bagley will be looking to take a similar step forward in his second year in the league. The number two pick in last years draft, Bagley averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds post the All-Star break last season. He also shot 40% from three in this period. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up this 20 and 10 play through next season.

If the Kings continue to develop their young guys they have the pieces to be a front runner in the west. How they spend their cap space in free agency will decide the structure of the team over the next five years. The first goal should be to make it back to the playoffs for the first in 14 years. This will go a long way towards making it a more attractive destination for free agents.

Next steps for the Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are on track to join the NBA’s elite. The combination of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic took the Nuggets back to the Playoffs for the first time in seven years. Building their talent through the draft, the Nuggets now pack a potential All-NBA one – two punch that is under contract for the next four years. Only a missed shot or two away from making the conference finals last season, Nuggets management have chosen to run it back this year. While western conference rivals the Clippers and Lakers mortgaged their futures to bring in star talent, the Nuggets gave away a solitary first rounder this off-season.

Young Core

Locking Jamal Murray down to a five year contract was the first off-season priority. Murray’s excellent play in the postseason was a massive part of why the Nuggets were a bounce of the ball away from making the conference finals. Murray was only the 9th player in playoff history to post 20 points, four rebounds and four assists in their age 21 season or younger. Murray was one of the youngest players in his draft class, and in his age 22 season this year is ready to explode plus 20 points a game. At rim finishing and getting to the line are the next steps for a player that has all the tools to be a top guard in this league. After agreeing to sign a five year – 170 million maximum deal, Murray and Jokic are now under contract for six and four more years respectively.

Nikola Jokic is about to enter his fifth year in the league. Last year was a breakout year for the Serbian as he was selected for the All-NBA 1st team. Already proclaimed by some as the greatest passing big man in NBA history, Jokic took his play to another level in the recently concluded playoffs. At only 24 Jokic is just hitting his peak, his insane playoff stat line proof that he is still improving. 25 points 13 rebounds and eight assists was the mark. This has only been achieved once prior to Jokic, by the great Oscar Robertson way back in 1962. Jokic’s defense needs to continue to improve to raise the floor of this team. The narrative that Jokic is a bad defender is incorrect, but he needs to make better reads on that end as the leader of this team. While Jokic and Murray provide the star building blocks, its the role players who will define the Nuggets playoff success in the future.

Role players are the key

Second round pick Monte Morris surprised plenty last season with his efficient scoring and strong play-making. Per cleaning the glass, Morris was in the top 3% of mid range shooters in the league last year. Malik Beasley also took his first big step in a Nuggets uniform in the past year. The 19th pick in the 2016 draft, Beasley improved his points per game from three to eleven while knocking down 40% of his three point attempts. If Morris and Beasley continue to improve, the Nuggets offense will have shooting options up and down the roster.

In what was possibly the most underrated move of the summer, the Nuggets traded a first round pick to Oklahoma City Thunder for power forward Jerami Grant. With Paul Millsap only having one year left on his contract, Grant could be the long term replacement at the four. A legitimate stretch big on a contract of only nine million, he is a strong playoff piece for this team. Connecting on 40% of his three pointers last season, Grant is also an improved defender. As Millsap’s offensive game peters out, Grant may be the perfect replacement piece.

While talking about options at the four, Michael Porter Jr’s availability this year could be a boon for the Nuggets. Porter missed all of last season with a back injury but is said to be fit for this coming season. Though they have a plethora of options at the four when you consider Jarred Vanderbilt also, Porter gives them another young scorer on a cost controlled rookie contract.

2020 season

Last year Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap all missed significant times with injuries. Considering this and that they still had the sixth best offense, there is no reason this team cant take another step forward. Figuring out who will play small forward full-time may be an important decision, but in this position-less NBA it may be of more importance to have the right pieces around Murray and Jokic.

This Nuggets team is one of the most exciting in the league, and with the average age being around 25 they also have one of the brightest futures. A 50 win season and second round of the playoffs should be the goal again for this team. If they are fit and healthy there is no reason they couldn’t upset one of the more fancied big market teams.

Is it showtime yet?

photo credit – CBS Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers signed Lebron James a touch over 12 months ago now. After Magic Johnson promised it was showtime last year, Lebron got injured and they missed the playoffs. Fast forward to this June and they traded the young core that took years to build for Anthony Davis. Though NBA teams would make this trade 100 times out of 100, when they pulled the trigger on this trade the clock started ticking. Lebron has three years left on his deal, and potentially only two of these will be at the MVP level fans are used to. The Lakers need to start winning right away.

Laker fans have been waiting ten years for a team to win 50 games again. How quickly can Lebron and AD mesh and how does the rest of the roster fit with them?

Roster

DeMarcus Cousins may be the piece that gets the Lakers over the top. A recent photo of Cousins had the internet in a spin, showing him trim and taught. If Cousins get anywhere close to the player he was two years ago for the Pelicans, then the Lakers have their big three after all. Lebron and AD may be enough, but adding in a fit and motivated Boogie is a game changer.

Cousins if fit and back to his best, will enter next years Free Agency as the big fish. What better motivation is there than having a resurgent year so he can get the big payday that most of his all star peers have commanded? We know that AD and Boogie fit well together, the Pelicans had the leagues third best offense two years ago. They were also third in rebounding, and third in assists. How coach Frank Vogel chooses to use Boogie will play a major part in the success of the second unit. Maybe Vogel needs to stagger his minutes slightly so Boogie can destroy second units with shooters. Though Boogie wont have the elite shooting he did from last year, when he was alongside one of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson he was at his best.

Lineup data per 100 possessionsMPPTS▼
D. Cousins | S. Curry482:57+11
D. Cousins | K. Durant423:01+9.8
D. Cousins | K. Thompson612:59+7.6

Avery Bradley

The other exciting piece for the Lakers is Avery Bradley. Playing for the Boston Celtics he was an All-Defense selection in 2015/16, followed by a conference finals appearance the next year where he was a key piece. Recently he only played 109 games for three different teams, injuries and rebuilding teams hurt his stock and on court play.

The Lakers though, look like they have got a guy who is ready to get back to his best. Like new teammate Cousins, Bradley is back in shape and claims to have lost 40 pounds since he was with the Clippers. At his best he is one of the leagues premier perimeter defenders. Be it chasing shooters around screens or closing out on shooters, Bradley can be a lock-down defender when fit. Offensively he was a great finisher at the rim for the Celtics and is a career 36% shooter from three point range. He has the ceiling of a guy who is perfect for the playoffs.

Offense

Frank Vogel may decide to flick the switch and play fast this season. When the Pelicans were at their best with Anthony Davis, they were in the top three teams in the league for pace. Lebron is still a wrecking ball in transition also. The Lakers at their peak last year, were playing fast. This roster, though different to last year has lob threats as well as guys who can hit transition threes. It might not be showtime like the 1980s, but it will be effective.

Vogel has different options this year in terms of play style. Magic Johnson’s focus on ‘ play-makers ” last year had the team fall short of the postseason. Arguably they have more play-makers this year when you add in AD and Boogie. Big men who can play-make while stretching the floor are nightmare match-ups for opposition defenses. Last year, ball stoppers like Lance Stephenson hurt the strengths of the roster. This year they will look to move the ball to create mismatches for their ultra skilled bigs.

Defense

Last years Lakers team finished 21st in defense. Though at first glance they had the fourth best defense at the rim, they also allowed the fourth most attempts. The perimeter wasn’t much better, allowing a lot of threes and not defending them well either. Adding defensive player of the year candidate Anthony Davis is obviously a massive upgrade. Davis is one of the best when it comes to playing elite defense and not fouling. Per Cleaning the Glass, he is the only player in the league to finish in the top 6% in steal and block rate while fouling on less than 3% of possessions. Bringing back good defenders Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee means the bench defense wont be lacking like last year. While Avery Bradley and Danny Green provide elite perimeter stopping without slowing down the offense.

Though the Western Conference is stacked again this year, the Lakers have two of the leagues top five players and what may be an elite defense. They will play fast and shoot a lot of threes, while their big men will get to the rim at will. The front office have gone all in this year, come October the rubber will hit the road and the world will see if showtime has really returned to LA.

Minnesota Timberwolves offseason

Jarrett Culver

The Minnesota Timberwolves rolled into the off-season with a spring in their step. After Gersson Rosas was hired as the new President of basketball operations in May, fans had reason to be optimistic about a long term vision for the franchise. Rosas activity in the draft and free agency have meant the Timberwolves are no longer watching from the sidelines.

Coaching Structure

Not only has Rosas made moves as far as the team goes, he has improved the coaching staff by bringing in specialists from other franchises. Pablo Prigioni was brought in from the Brooklyn Nets after a year where he was instrumental in the development of Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell. David Vanterpool was also brought in from the Trailblazers where he was a popular and highly regarded member of their coaching staff.

Vanterpool was a favourite of Damian Lillard’s and is due much credit for Lillard and CJ McCollum’s development. Gianluca Pascucci was also poached from the Nets where he was the Director of global scouting. Pascucci will join the Timberwolves as Assistant General Manager.

Making Moves

Not only should we praise the caliber of these hires, but the age and diversity should also be noted. They are young coaches and front office staff with varied backgrounds from proven organisations. Rosas has shown his hand early on,saying in his introductory press conference he would be aggressive in improving the roster. Prior to draft night it seemed like a defensive minded power forward would be taken with the 11th pick. Rosas surprised everyone at the time by not making a conservative pick of a second or third year PF with limited upside. He swung for the fences and traded Dario Saric to the Phoenix Suns to trade up to #6 and take Jarrett Culver. Though Saric is a nice piece and potentially a starter on a good team, Rosas knew he would command too much on the open market when he hit restricted free agency.

Wing player Culver showed a lot of promise at Texas Tech, running the offense while playing excellent defense on the other end. As detailed below, he has legitimate two way potential in the league.

In the second round, Jaylen Nowell was selected out of Washington with the 43rd pick. Nowell was the Pac-12 player of the year and shot an impressive 44% from three point range last season. Like Culver he has great size and can score.

Free Agency

When free agency rolled around, Rosas and co were aggressive in trying to land D’Angelo Russell. If not for the Golden State Warriors swooping in, Russell may have come across in a sign and trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Though this move didn’t come off, fans shouldn’t be disappointed. Rosas stayed true to his word to be proactive in the market.

With no cap space to speak of, he proceeded to trawl the open market for value players with upside. Jordan Bell was the first cab off the rank. Though Bell had a disappointing year for the Warriors he is worth a punt on a 1.6 million minimum contract. Not only is he a good passer at his position, he is a great offensive re-bounder. When engaged, he can play strong defense on the perimeter and at the rim. Noah Vonleh was also an excellent acquisition at the minimum. The 9th pick in the draft in 2014, Vonleh has reinvented himself in the last year. Showcasing an improved shooting stroke and defense, Vonleh was one of only two Knick players with a positive on / off rating.

Bargain Deals

Jake Layman was another strong pickup for the Wolves. Layman is a 6’9 wing who spent three years with the Trailblazers. Like Vonleh, Layman broke out this year. While casual NBA fans may not have taken notice of his excellent year, Layman played the most minutes of his career and was one of the best finishers at the rim at his position. If he continues to improve his jump-shot, he could be a starter in this league. The last move made in the off-season was acquiring Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham from the Warriors. While the details of this trade haven’t been confirmed, its looking like the Warriors had to pay to get off these two contracts. Napier is a good backup point guard on a cheap contract. While Graham is a cheap wing who can play bench minutes.

Rosas also had to make a tough decision when choosing not to match the Memphis Grizzlies offer for Tyus Jones. Unfortunately for fan favorite Tyus, the 27 million offer made by Memphis was an overpay for his services. Tyus was great in his role and stepped up in the last year with an injury plagued roster. Not paying Tyus means they are only a Gorgui Dieng expiring deal away from having max cap space next year.

Though the Timberwolves aren’t in championship contention or signing max free agents, its great to see they have a clear direction in the front office. Rosas and co are working towards strengthening the team long term, while trying to make the roster younger. They will be strong defensively this coming season, while Karl-Anthony Towns may well take another step forward. If Rosas moves so far are an indication of whats to come, this team may look significantly stronger within 12 months.